Last year I had a particularly difficult critique session characterised by a lingering deathly silence. It panicked me, because all I could think of was that the work was so alienating that no one could get any reading from it at all, and as a result I was jumpy and defensive, and terrified that I’d been found out as a fraud. It was during this frustrated and uncomfortable silence that the question “why drawing?” was levelled at me in what I took at the time to be a confrontational manner. The question knocked all the wind out of me (what wind was left!) and I cannot for the life of me recall what my answer was except that it was stuttered out in with all the gawkish awkwardness I had, I thought, hidden away carefully.
Why drawing? Later it made me angry. Why not drawing? No one asks a photographer ‘Why photography?’ I told myself. Drawing is my medium, I thought, perhaps slightly possessively, jealously, as though to hold it tight to my chest and sooth myself with its familiarity. But I knew that wasn’t good enough truly. Even through the anger. And later still it came to me late at night, why drawing? Like a haunting.
I didn’t set out to be an artist that draws. A drawer. It’s an ungainly, unflattering word, especially spoken out loud. I never intended to draw specifically; I had always secretly hoped to be a painter really. I tried on other things at first, flirted with other mediums and methods, made things, objects that I was never quite comfortable calling sculpture. At one time I was quite convinced I was a printmaker. But eventually I fell into drawing because I thought it might lead to painting. I figured it was the start of things, the beginning, and maybe it could have been, or should have been, if only I could bring myself to move on.
I got sucked in to drawing thinking that once I’d mastered it I could logically make the next step. But it was a trap! There is no mastery of drawing. No matter what you do it can always be better, sharper, cleaner, more precise, and when you are done with that (and I am not yet!) it can always be more expressive, looser, smudgier, softer, harder, bigger, smaller. It can copy, create, demonstrate, elucidate! The more I studied drawing the less sense painting even made to me, how could I commit to colour, to texture, to brushstroke when there are so many questions still lingering around line and tone? Why complicate the language when there is so much that can be said with adding and erasing?
The more enamoured I grew with drawing; the more it became not only my medium, but also my subject. There hidden away at the bottom of my investigations was that drawing was one of the simplest expressions of trace. Suddenly my fascination with the connections between different people, and between people and objects, and the connections between past and future, left hemisphere and right hemisphere, text and image and text as image; my fascination with reproduction and reconstructions could only be answered in the simplest, sparest, most modest mark making. It seemed unnecessarily complicated, cruel even, to burden these thoughts with all the baggage of the historical pedigree of painting (or printmaking, or sculpture…); or to encumber these ideas in the heavy trappings of traditions, technical craftsmanship, or the controversies of the fashionable. Other mediums seem so laden with baggage from the past. Drawing I find deceptive in its simplicity and universality. Drawing is the wallflower, the quietest voice with the most to say. Drawing is the ancestor of everything, and yet because it has always been there, somewhere, minding its own business, it has escaped the limitations of other art forms with their standard expectations and their rules, rules, rules.
That sounds unfair, like I’m dismissing out of hand all other ways of working, but I’m not, I promise. I suppose I am really trying to figure this out, in a verbose outpouring, which is primarily a stream of consciousness, just why it is that drawing appeals to me, and why I feel so strongly that it is the best way to say what I want to say. The truth is… What is the truth? What do I think drawing can do differently? Why choose drawing as the vehicle of my ideas? Is it honest to think that no other medium could possibly do the job?
Why drawing? I don’t have an answer that will necessarily satisfy that question, and I suspect it will continue to haunt me, because in truth my answer is simply because I haven’t finished yet…